How to Save the News
June 1, 2010 11:58 AM   Subscribe

How to Save the News. "Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business. Few people know how hard Google is trying to bring it back to life, or why the company now considers journalism’s survival crucial to its own prospects."
posted by chunking express (64 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Uh...what? "Lack of journalism" is killing the news. That's why I stopped watching TV news in the early 90s way before Google existed. It's why I stopped listening to NPR a few years ago and there wasn't then nor is there now a way to get radio news via Google.
posted by DU at 12:13 PM on June 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


There is some serious "tl;dr" going on in that article, but at a glance, it appears to start off being sensationalist and making absurd claims and then admits further down that what it was saying earlier wasn't really accurate.
posted by Vorteks at 12:17 PM on June 1, 2010


So Rupert Murdoch is "everyone"now?
posted by DarkForest at 12:17 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


> Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business.

That's a hell of a premise.
posted by ardgedee at 12:19 PM on June 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ironically, I would say that the linked article itself is a prime example of the style of reporting that is, in fact, killing the news.
posted by Vorteks at 12:20 PM on June 1, 2010 [13 favorites]


CraigsList has done a lot more than Google to destroy the newspaper business.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:20 PM on June 1, 2010 [20 favorites]


CraigsList has done a lot more than Google to destroy the newspaper business.

That actually comes up in the article. Probably in the tl;dr part.
Classified advertising, traditionally 30 to 40 percent of a newspaper’s total revenue, is disappearing in a rush to online sites. “There are a lot of people in the business who think that in the not-too-distant future, the classified share of a paper’s revenue will go to zero,” Cohen said. “Stop right there. In any business, if you lose a third of your revenue, you’re going to be in serious trouble.”
posted by chunking express at 12:24 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the actual article is a lot better than the headline or these pullquotes. The concept of "bundling", Craigslist, less time reading overall vs TV or internet, etc, etc. The newspapers are dying for a lot of reasons.
posted by GuyZero at 12:24 PM on June 1, 2010


It surprised me that the article didn't mention ad blocking, which I would have thought would have been a reasonably big concern to Google in this context.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 12:27 PM on June 1, 2010


Yeah, the title is misleading and unfortunate because it's not exactly just another journo's take on how to save the news but then again I guess you would have to actually read it to find that out and during that time crucial first snarker opportunites are passing.
posted by The Straightener at 12:29 PM on June 1, 2010 [24 favorites]


Uh...what? "Lack of journalism" is killing the news. That's why I stopped watching TV news in the early 90s way before Google existed. It's why I stopped listening to NPR a few years ago and there wasn't then nor is there now a way to get radio news via Google.


Besides a couple of people on Metafilter, is this really the case? Have people ever really gone out of their way to get "journalism"? I haven't heard any stories about People Magazine hitting the skids.

From the article:

Next in the Google assessment is the emphasis on “unbundling” as an insurmountable business problem for journalism. “Bundling” was the idea that all parts of the paper came literally in one wrapper—news, sports, comics, grocery-store coupons—and that people who bought the paper for one part implicitly subsidized all the rest. This was important not just because it boosted overall revenue but because it kept publishers from having to figure out whether enough people were reading stories from the statehouse or Mexico City to pay the costs of reporters there.

“Newspapers never made money on ‘news,’” Hal Varian said. “Serious reporting, say from Afghanistan, has simply never paid its way. What paid for newspapers were the automotive sections, real-estate, home-and-garden, travel, or technology, where advertisers could target their ads.” The Internet has been one giant system for stripping away such cross-subsidies. Why look to the newspaper real-estate listings when you can get more up-to-date, searchable info on Zillow—or better travel deals on Orbitz, or a broader range of movie showtimes on Yahoo? Google has been the most powerful unbundling agent of all. It lets users find the one article they are looking for, rather than making them buy the entire paper that paid the reporter. It lets advertisers reach the one customer who is searching for their product, rather than making them advertise to an entire class of readers.


The problem is people don't want journalism, they want sports scores and classified ads and gossip or the business page.

I thought this article in n+1 magazine had some pretty good points about how Google is indirectly kill newspapers by making advertising more efficient:

In retrospect, it’s apparent that the commercial liability of newspapers and national magazines was the same as their cultural strength: they addressed issues of general interest in an all-purpose public sphere. But to advertisers this civics-class “everybody” was a consumer “nobody”: it meant the press didn’t know who its audience was, or what they could afford. To pack a reporter off to Congo or Pakistan was to spend a lot of money catering to a phantom demographic. When this was the best that advertisers could do, it’s what they did: if Macy’s was holding a sale, it advertised it in the front section of the paper between news of the defense of Kinshasa and the latest scandal in Congress, figuring that “everybody” saw it, one way or another. If Ford had a new truck to market, off it went in search of football games to interrupt. But how much more reasonable and efficient—for everyone, really—to advertise clothing sales to people who want clothing, and Ford trucks not to sports fans, but to people in the market for a truck. Before, the advertisers had to guess; now, with all the information we provide with keyword searches, on social networks, and in emails, advertising can be more precise. On top of that, the “content” of social networks, email, search engines, blogs—it somehow magically produces itself, that is to say the users produce it, that is to say it’s free. The extension of advertising to the domain of private chatter undermines the competitiveness of anything that costs more than private chatter to produce. Marx blamed the below-subsistence wages of the proletariat on the reserve army of labor; the below-subsistence revenues of the Times can be blamed on the reserve army of the social networks.
posted by zabuni at 12:29 PM on June 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Are you sure printing massive amounts of paper and hauling it around and paying homeless people to sell it in the middle of busy intersections doesn't have something to do with it?
posted by odinsdream at 12:30 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


@THEMEDIAISDYING

There a perfect storm of factors that is killing newspapers. I think it needs stated that there is a difference between newspapers and journalism.

I know ad reps that were some of the best that bailed to other industries because they couldn't squeeze blood from a stone. What do you do when your job is to sell ads and your bonuses and commissions are based off improving over what you did last year? Even over the last 5 years the economy has been such that all other things aside you probably weren't going to do as well. Now add in the the other factors and suddenly it's time to look for work elsewhere. Now replace this guy with a lesser paid. less experienced salesman. On and on.

And when it comes to certain subjects most print media aren't going to be able to do it as well. When is comes to design or to technical issues I seldom look at print anymore. Same for cooking and travel.

Heck, I often don't look to the professionals for these subjects. Some hobbyist is doing a better job. Even book and movie reviews.

etc.

#30

.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:31 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]




Uh...what? "Lack of journalism" is killing the news. That's why I stopped watching TV news in the early 90s way before Google existed. It's why I stopped listening to NPR a few years ago and there wasn't then nor is there now a way to get radio news via Google.

The article was about newspapers... ?
posted by cavalier at 12:34 PM on June 1, 2010


Are you sure printing massive amounts of paper and hauling it around and paying homeless people to sell it in the middle of busy intersections doesn't have something to do with it?

That actually comes up in the article. Probably in the tl;dr part.
“If you were starting from scratch, you could never possibly justify this business model,” Hal Varian said, in a variation on a familiar tech-world riff about the print-journalism business. “Grow trees—then grind them up, and truck big rolls of paper down from Canada? Then run them through enormously expensive machinery, hand-deliver them overnight to thousands of doorsteps, and leave more on newsstands, where the surplus is out of date immediately and must be thrown away? Who would say that made sense?”
posted by chunking express at 12:40 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


You could just as easily argue 'The Internet' is killing the news business. For example, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2010/04/how-to-save-the-news/8095/ this link didn't really benefit The Atlantic. No ads, and they had to pay for bandwidth.

Google just searches and catalogs stuff.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 12:40 PM on June 1, 2010


i like how half you guys haven't read this. you just want your sports scores and classifieds, and are now sitting back in your easy chairs puffing on your pipe waiting for your wife to pull that salisbury steak out of the oven. but in the meantime you will be imposing your opinion on your 5 year old son who just wants to watch some baseball but damnit you better listen to me i know what's best for you.
posted by bam at 12:44 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


what
posted by entropicamericana at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business. "

Beg the question much? I thought the current reality of their antiquated business model was killing their business, and Google craigslist was just the implementation.
posted by mullingitover at 12:53 PM on June 1, 2010


It surprised me that the article didn't mention ad blocking, which I would have thought would have been a reasonably big concern to Google in this context.

Either a lot of website owners are in serious denial about ad blocking software, or the adoption of ad blocking software is shockingly less widespread than I would have guessed. Maybe both?
posted by straight at 12:54 PM on June 1, 2010


Someone please give me a website where stories are weighted by importance to the world, not how new they are.

So I should, at this moment, see the biggest weight going to wars and environmental disasters and financial disasters that are impacting the globe, per-country election coverage and policy changes should be in the middle, the bottom should have local/regional stuff, and anything related to television, movies or marital status should be on a subpage that you have to click a link to see.
posted by davejay at 1:01 PM on June 1, 2010


cjorgensen: "@THEMEDIAISDYING"

The media ARE dying.

/pedant
posted by brundlefly at 1:04 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, the online media aren't helped by their continued lack of understanding of the Web. For example, the /print at the Atlantic can be linked from here and gives them no ad revenue at all. Why not simply implement a print stylesheet, so that people who view the page can print it with a sane theme, but you can't link to the page with that stylesheet?
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:07 PM on June 1, 2010


Someone please give me a website where stories are weighted by importance to the world, not how new they are.

Please, give me a website that has the same stories I've already read on the front page every day because someone else thinks they're "important" rather than putting up things I haven't read before.

Oh wait, that would be insane. I get that you're don't want to see "anything related to television," but ranking stories by newness really isn't the problem.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:07 PM on June 1, 2010


I doubt that many people block ads. Most ads never really bothered me that much, although I never clicked on them. The thing is, though, I just Started blocking ads because they really did get too annoying. Including ads that tried to installed executable on my machine (from perfectly innocuous sites), and ads that ate up an entire CPU core doing 3d animation for H&R Block. And of course those obnoxious double-underline links. Annoying.

So while the advertising in principle doesn't bother me, advertising's excesses have driven me to block all of them.

---

Anyway, I find the mewling by news people pretty obnoxious. They've done a pretty terrible job, and I find their sense of entitlement annoying. They're just as likely to be enmeshed in local corruption as they are to expose it.

And more then that, the incentive structure is all fucked up. They get rewarded for toeing the official line because if they repeat what insiders want them to say, they'll get more access. The Washington DC reporting is really an exemplar of this, but I'm sure it happens in other places.

Having good sources gets you more readers (because you can say something more interesting) then actually reporting on them when things your sources don't want people to know. So we end up with papers full of spin.

---

The other thing is that there's so much repetition in what they report. Newspapers all write the same article, and then act surprised when people don't all want to read their copy. Well duh. Look at how many stories there were about balloon boy (thousands at least) Did they all add unique information? Obviously not. The fact that 100 newspapers all run the same AP story online doesn't mean that people are all going to read it.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


davejay-
“Usually, you see essentially the same approach taken by a thousand publications at the same time,” he told me. “Once something has been observed, nearly everyone says approximately the same thing.” He didn’t mean that the publications were linking to one another or syndicating their stories. Rather, their conventions and instincts made them all emphasize the same things. This could be reassuring, in indicating some consensus on what the “important” stories were. But Bharat said it also indicated a faddishness of coverage—when Michael Jackson dies, other things cease to matter—and a redundancy that journalism could no longer afford."

Google might grant your with in a few years.
posted by bam at 1:09 PM on June 1, 2010


*wish
posted by bam at 1:10 PM on June 1, 2010


I don't understand what's so remarkable about Google valuing news content.

They have replaced newspapers, so just like newspapers they need some crap to run between the ads, right?
posted by rokusan at 1:18 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Everyone knows that dogs can't play sports. But what you DIDN'T know is that the evil millionaire who is going to tear down the community center has ignorantly challenged the local middle school basketball team to a match, offering the deed to the building if they can beat his evil team of Russian basketballers. We're outmatched, so your mission is to assassinate him, make him PAY. Make the barrels of your gun sing the war song, Agent CRIMEDOG. COMING FALL 2010
posted by Damn That Television at 1:21 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, we've got an extremely easy way to save the news : give money to wikileaks. Yes, journalists are necessary of course, but they are often not investigating these days, which makes wikileaks more important.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:26 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The three pillars of the new online business model, as I heard them invariably described, are distribution, engagement, and monetization. That is: getting news to more people, and more people to news-oriented sites; making the presentation of news more interesting, varied, and involving; and converting these larger and more strongly committed audiences into revenue, through both subscription fees and ads.

Cool article, but their main point (Google Wants To Help Journalism!) still needs to sink in to the journalists themselves that the very core of their industry is going to die and needs to be replaced.

As the author points out: "News businesses themselves are relatively static, and the very name “Newspaper Guild” suggests how tradition-bound many journalists are. We pride ourselves on defending standards of language, standards of judgment, and even a form of public service that can seem antique. Whether or not this makes for better journalism, it complicates the embrace of radical new experiments."

The most important issue here seems to be attitude. It's high time for web technology services like Google to realize that they would be nothing without content providers, and for content providers like newspaper owners to realize that they will fail without working with technologists to make better and more lucrative web choices to replace their old revenue streams. Cut the snark and bitterness and get to work y'all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:37 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is very specific to America.

American journalism is indeed direly bad, and has been getting worse for a generation. A combination of the doctrine of balanced reporting (which is utterly bogus), journalism graduates who know nothing about anything (except how to file copy), and large media conglomerates hiding behind "balance" while they use their audience's perception of impartiality to slide the Overton window to the right -- all of these have turned US newspapers into toilet paper.

And your TV reporting is just as bad.

News media are -- they can't possibly not be -- partisan; pretending not to be is not only a travesty, it short-sells the audience (who, given honest bias, are quite capable of drawing their own triangle on the truth, thank you very much) and it makes no-holds-barred campaigning journalism impossible.
posted by cstross at 1:49 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anyway, I find the mewling by news people pretty obnoxious. They've done a pretty terrible job, and I find their sense of entitlement annoying. They're just as likely to be enmeshed in local corruption as they are to expose it.

When I read that, I woulda bet my arm that I knew who wrote it... because the same person has said the same ranty thing on more than a few occasions... and I was right.

They're just as likely to be enmeshed in local corruption as they are to expose it.

Care to back that up to any substantive extent or will you leave it at tossing out sensationalist bullshit?
posted by ambient2 at 1:52 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's high time for web technology services like Google to realize that they would be nothing without content providers, and for content providers like newspaper owners to realize that they will fail without working with technologists to make better and more lucrative web choices to replace their old revenue streams.

I think the fundamental issue here is that newspaper companies are not really best described as content providers, content production is only a small part of what they do. Physically producing and distributing the actual newspaper itself has always been the core part of the business. From the article:

Burdened as they are with these “legacy” print costs, newspapers typically spend about 15 percent of their revenue on what, to the Internet world, are their only valuable assets: the people who report, analyze, and edit the news.

Around 85% of any given newspaper's operations is completely obsolete at this point. It's not clear how the 15% that people actually care about will get incorporated into new business models, but it's not just a simple matter of updating the old ones to take advantage of new revenue streams. The companies that own the printing presses today are never going to control the physical production and distribution platform like they did in the past because physical production is unnecessary and distribution is handled by companies that own cable lines and chunks of the wireless spectrum. Newspaper companies are basically just infrastructure owners with in-house content production, and the infrastructure they own is increasingly worthless.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:01 PM on June 1, 2010


Around 85% of any given newspaper's operations is completely obsolete at this point.

I just cancelled my subscription to my local paper (except for the Sunday edition) after I realized how little I actually read of it. Twenty years ago when I started getting it delivered, almost all of the non-news parts of the paper were useful (classified, sports scores, weather, weekend guides, even the ads were the only way to know what was on sale) and now all of that is just a waste of paper. I can't even figure out why they bother to print a lot of what they do print. Does anyone get their day old stock quotes from the tiny unreadable listing in the daily paper? By the end, the only thing that I was interested in was the local city and neighborhood news and they do a shitty job at that. I find out more about local government from little amateur blogs than I ever did from actual reporting.
posted by octothorpe at 2:18 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hard news is only valuable if its valuable to someone, if it helps to further someone's agenda. Fox news understands this, and it's why they succeed.

News organizations that stick to phony scruples like objectivity are doomed to fail, because nobody is going to pay for someone elses faux objectivity.

I think that mercenary journalism is the future, freelance journalists hired a la carte, to dig up dirt on political and business enemies.

I don't think there's anything wrong with that and I'd happily contribute to pay some young, enterprising muckraker to work full time on destroying blackwater, for example.
posted by empath at 2:32 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just to point out, people in journalism were talking about the decline in newsprint journalism back in the 80s. By '89 most daily newspapers were local monopolies owned by growing media conglomerates. And even with that, the industry was struggling to stay profitable before the Internet broke out of its educational sandbox.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2010


octothorpe: "Does anyone get their day old stock quotes from the tiny unreadable listing in the daily paper?"

My grandfather does. Or at least pretends to. Dude can barely see or hear anymore. It's no exaggeration to say their demographic is dying out; the next generation of old people will be computer literate enough to get their quotes online with assistance for their visual impairments.

I was digging through my family's file archives to organize and prepare some things and found on the front of a folder labeled 401k, a newspaper clipping of various phone based quote services. I should give them a call for a joke and see if they still work, but I don't give the operation high odds of success.
posted by pwnguin at 2:40 PM on June 1, 2010


If I had 0.0001c for every time someone hit the refresh icon, or 0.005c for every time someone hit the home icon, or 0.01c every time someone opened a browser window, or 0.1c every time someone did a search or $0.2 every time someone bought a new tune from iTunes, or $300 every time someone bought a new device I'd be Yahoo/Google/Microsoft/Apple.

I wouldn't be a news outlet though.
posted by vectr at 2:42 PM on June 1, 2010


Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business.

Everyone knows that Google is one of the only things keeping the news business alive.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:54 PM on June 1, 2010


Either a lot of website owners are in serious denial about ad blocking software, or the adoption of ad blocking software is shockingly less widespread than I would have guessed.

Or they don't care. Online ad money is paltry when compared to print. The best description I've heard is it is trading dollars for dimes. Sure they want to maximize the dimes, but they are really focused on the dollars.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:02 PM on June 1, 2010


And your TV reporting is just as bad.

TV news is horrible. I had the misfortune of spending an hour watching CNN while waiting for a five-minute bank transaction, and in that hour I learned:
1) Arizona passed a law
2) Charlie Crist will run as an independent.

Pretty much the rest of the hour was filled with either overly-emotive opinion or blatant speculation.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:08 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The other thing is that there's so much repetition in what they report. Newspapers all write the same article, and then act surprised when people don't all want to read their copy.

Newspapers are used to being local monopolies. Each had a captive audience who read their copy, because there wasn't any choice.

Having a captive audience is a very comforting thing, and it breeds bad habits and bad attitudes. It's hugely terrifying when you lose it, and that's what's been going on for the last fifteen years.

One reason is the appearance of national newspapers: USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the NYT, and the Washington Post have been distributed all over the US (and a fair number of other places in the world) for fifteen years or more.

But, of course, the internet broke it wide open. It's the global village made real: you and I can "travel" anywhere in the world in an instant, and read anything we find there. Suddenly no newspaper has a captive audience. Now they have to compete for every reader -- and they don't know how to do it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:11 PM on June 1, 2010


I think that mercenary journalism is the future, freelance journalists hired a la carte, to dig up dirt on political and business enemies. I don't think there's anything wrong with that and I'd happily contribute to pay some young, enterprising muckraker to work full time on destroying blackwater, for example.

I think this is the natural state of things, but when something momentous happens—amazing new event, or someone doing something especially fucking egregious—then newspapers don the (highly lucrative) mantle of objective reporting, the shining light of truth. They sell a bunch of papers and get a good reputation that will help them sell a bunch more.

They start to believe it themselves, and still do for awhile after that as they slowly decay from within, racing around trying to make huge stories out of nothing, trying to get another fix of big story, as they backslide towards the state you describe.
posted by fleacircus at 3:28 PM on June 1, 2010


That actually comes up in the article. Probably in the tl;dr part.
...
That actually comes up in the article. Probably in the tl;dr part.
...

Thank you for your services - seriously.
posted by stbalbach at 3:33 PM on June 1, 2010



Uh...what? "Lack of journalism" is killing the news. That's why I stopped watching TV news in the early 90s way before Google existed.


Likewise. I can even pin the tipping point to within an hour. While watching the noon news on December 7th, 1994, I heard a newscaster begin a story by saying "Today is the 53rd anniversary of what US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called 'a day that will live in infamy'."

I immediately thought, "No, you fucking doofus, FDR called it, 'a date which will live in infamy'. It is one of the most famous quotations of the 20th century and you managed to get about 30% of the words wrong. Does the newsroom not have a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations?" If newswriters cannot get demonstrable, readily-available facts right, can I trust that a news story about Guyana is not actually about Ghana, or the a story critical about Glendale University College of Law is not actually supposed to be about the diploma mill Glendale University?

From that day to this I have considered TV news a form of light entertainment and have seen no reason to change my views.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:38 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like newspapers, and newspaper sites - the majority of links from metafilter go to one newspaper site or another, and I'm an avid reader of the guardian website (and when I'm on a plane, maybe twice a month in print). But newspapers in general have the same problem that facebook has: Millions of users who love content but won't pay a penny for it.

Nobody's going to pay for access to a single newspaper site. Murdoch's plan for charging for content on the Times website and others is frankly nuts, his readers will go to other similar sites that he doesn't control. What really needs to happen, to save newspapers, is for an independent body to come up with a "press pass" system, where you pay a subscription to an independent body, and this allows unfettered access to all newspaper sites.

That independent body then distributes money based on page impressions for all the newspaper sites in its scheme. It's hard to imagine it happening though, you'd need to get a whole bunch of belligerent rival newspaper tycoons all to agree at the same time, and that's not going to be easy. I'm sorry to say it, but probably only Google or Apple could actually make that happen, and it's not exactly in their interests to make it work. If the majority of good newspaper sites disappeared behind a single pay-wall, a hell of a lot of people would pay a small subscription to get access to those sites whenever they wanted - I certainly would. Most of my subscription would end up going to the Grauniad, but links off here would certainly get revenue too, and that wouldn't be a bad thing. Let's pay for the damn news and features that we read.

Newspapers, or rather, news whether online on tv or in print should not be a dying industry - we all want to know what's going on. And some of us would be willing to pay for it; but unless somebody comes up with a work-able scheme that lets us as readers get content cheaply and even more importantly easily, and gives the news generators a revenue stream, then the print media and internet newspaper sites are dead. Period. The ad revenue will go elsewhere, because there's far better ways to advert your stuff than annoying your potential customers with stuff that simply isn't relevant at the time. Where TV is warm, the Web is cold. It is a user-driven experience, where the user is actively engaged in determining where to go next. The user is usually on the Web for a purpose and is not likely to be distracted from the goal by an advertisement.

I don't hold out much hope, but maybe Apple or Google can save newspapers.
posted by BigCalm at 3:38 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


tl;rd
...
Thank you - seriously

So we've created a networked machine where you click a button for instant, diminishing rewards and we actually thought we were advancing the cause of evolved human communication?

It's sort of both. We probably needed to slow the pace of change so our current institutions could keep up, but I guess we're going to experience the worst (or best) of both worlds.
posted by vectr at 3:53 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


... his readers will go to other similar sites that he doesn't control.

What would happen if the paper was doing truly original reporting? If you wanted to read this Fallows article, where else would you go besides the Atlantic? I think that is where the future is. Churning out the same article the AP does is probably only going to cut it for so long.
posted by chunking express at 4:28 PM on June 1, 2010


On the other hand, the news industry still drives a lot of the dialog. That's why you hear so much about the newspaper industry dying but not, say, car makers or light manufacturing, or whatever. It does google a lot of good, in terms of PR to make the newspaper industry think they are fighting on their behalf.
posted by delmoi at 4:43 PM on June 1, 2010


By the end, the only thing that I was interested in was the local city and neighborhood news and they do a shitty job at that.

I've tried making this point to the newspaper employees in my town on more than one occasion.
The only really original thing they have going for them is the local/regional news, yet they do an absolutely horrible job at it.

My suggestions to quit wasting money buying TV listings, stock reports, and those oh-so-worthless auto "reviews" and hire a couple more local reporters never seem to get anywhere.

But then, it could be that canceling those things would lead to every old person in a 50 mile radius canceling their subscription, thus leading to a death-spiral, I don't know.

What I do know is that I'd be willing to pay a bit more for a subscription if it went to an actual local reporter reporting on an actual local story rather than yet another AP reprint with a "local" paragraph bodged onto the end.
posted by madajb at 4:57 PM on June 1, 2010




This is very specific to America.
We're not immune all the same, considering the Herald is owned by Gannet and was gutted just like its US papers. Given that the Scotsman was already on its knees and the Sunday Times Scotland has just been shut the picture for "serious" newspapers in Scotland is ... bleak.

On the other hand, the news industry still drives a lot of the dialog.
To be honest, there really isn't any other dialog at a national level. The online echo chamber is noisy when you're inside, but virtually silent outside. That's the other strength of newspapers: they focus a news audience on a story just as surely as the Superbowl focuses a TV audience. This is why they can dictate the news agenda.

People positing a wikileaks-style model for the future of journalism are only solving one small part of the many functions newspapers fulfil. Consider what happens after wikileaks breaks something huge: nothing, usually, except some Twittering and blogging. When it gets picked up by TV and the dead trees is when it actually becomes a story with the power to change events.

There isn't yet a website that can daily shape the news agenda outwith the traditional media. As those media wane even further this might change, and such a website might emerge. That, combined with wikileaks or other non-traditional reporting, could well be a model for replacing national-level newspaper journalism.

Such a model though, doesn't do the work that is (or should have been) being done at the local level, which is different, vastly more fragile, and arguably more important to civic life. God help us if the BBC has to do it here.
posted by bonaldi at 6:13 PM on June 1, 2010


What would happen if the paper was doing truly original reporting? If you wanted to read this Fallows article, where else would you go besides the Atlantic? I think that is where the future is. Churning out the same article the AP does is probably only going to cut it for so long.

The article is 8,000 words long, involves interviewing, at a quick glance, more than a half-dozen executives at Google, and took Fallows about a year to write. He does about 5 or 6 of these a year.
Offhand, I'd say that takes up 10-20 pages of the print edition, which comes out monthly.

He also keeps a blog for the Atlantic which this week had 15 posts. It was kind of a slow week, so maybe his usual average was higher.
posted by Diablevert at 9:15 PM on June 1, 2010


Churning out the same article the AP does is probably only going to cut it for so long.

Oh pish, the AP or google news sites will never offer the same insight, wit, and intellectual commentary that one finds in the comments on local newspaper websites.
posted by stet at 10:14 PM on June 1, 2010


I wasn't sure if this should go here, or if it deserved its own post, so I decided to err on the side of no-FPP.

The FTC is aware of the problem and is considering solutions.

A. "Federal Hot News Legislation" would provide IP protection to the information and facts in a news story, and not just the text and writing of it. No one else could report the same information without licensing it.

B. Congress should create statutory limits to Fair Use.

C. Federally-administrated licensing of news distribution. "...amending the copyright laws to create a content license fee (perhaps $5.00 to $7.00) to be paid by every Internet Service Provider on each account it provides."

...and there's much more.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:46 PM on June 1, 2010


The more I read about this issue, the more I get the impression that 2 main factors are at work:
1. Print advertising has probably always had its price inflated by scarcity and dubious performance measurement. Online advertising has opened up a wealth of advertising opportunities and offers more stats, so prices will inevitably have to adjust.
2. News organisations have been staggeringly slow/obstinate in recognising change and embracing technology. Where are the nifty self-service ad systems to compete with Google and Craigslist? Where's the innovation in presentation and advertising? We hear a lot of whining about web-savvy companies 'stealing' revenue, but where's the love, enthusiasm and respect for the web?

I'm not one of those people eagerly hoping traditional news organisations will die, but they do make it rather hard to have much sympathy.
posted by malevolent at 3:07 AM on June 2, 2010


By the end, the only thing that I was interested in was the local city and neighborhood news and they do a shitty job at that.

My hometown newspaper produced a TV ad twenty years ago playing up the "around-the world, around-the-corner" scope of their reporting. In it they hired a bunch of actors to play Joe Lunchbucket, Jane the Nurse, and so forth -- each would speak a line of testimonial. I recall well the woman pretending to garden who turned to the camera and said perkily, "It gives me I things can talk with my friends about!" Yes, that is the sort of graceful prose they were putting front and centre to woo disaffected readers back.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:18 AM on June 2, 2010


You know, we've got an extremely easy way to save the news : give money to wikileaks. Yes, journalists are necessary of course, but they are often not investigating these days, which makes wikileaks more important.

Julian Assange is not a journalist. He's a propagandist. I'm not saying he's not performing a valuable service in leaking documents, but lopsided and incomplete reporting is not journalism. Not good journalism, anyway.
posted by orville sash at 5:19 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jeff Jarvis on the “staff discussion draft” on “potential policy recommendations to support the reinvention of journalism” that Chocolate Pickle mentioned.
posted by orville sash at 5:21 AM on June 2, 2010


Investigation is the most important, most dangerous, most expensive, least entertaining, and first cut part of journalism, well that's exactly what wikileaks handles. I've not the slightest worry that our news-entertainers will discover ways of supporting themselves, well they're entertainers. We're far more worried about the investigative part being covered.

If google wishes to help journalism, they should stop helping the entertainers, and put a few billion dollars in an endowment for investigative journalism organizations like wikileaks.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:26 AM on June 2, 2010


"2. News organisations have been staggeringly slow/obstinate in recognising change and embracing technology. Where are the nifty self-service ad systems to compete with Google and Craigslist? Where's the innovation in presentation and advertising? We hear a lot of whining about web-savvy companies 'stealing' revenue, but where's the love, enthusiasm and respect for the web?"

They suffered from the delusion that they were in the news business.

Why would you expect them to have love and affection for the thing that's killing them? The better they are at their jobs, the more likely they are to have love and affection for the craft as they have known and perfected it.

Craigslist is free, except for real estate ads in quite limited markets. This is because Craig Newmark is kind of a weirdo who doesn't really care if he maximizes profit. If Craigslist were a typical profit maximizing corporation, newspapers would find it much easier to compete with. But even so, Newspaper use the money classified ads generate to serve what they view as their primary function: discovering and reporting interesting facts about the world. The purpose of Craigslist is to provide free classified advertizing to the world. From the perpective of a consumer who needs to place a classified ad, the second is in almost all circumstances preferable to the first. (The exception being cases where one uses the expense and selectivity of the audience for the content as a proxy filter for the audience of the ad. The old personals in the New York Review of Books leap to mind.)

I'm sorry if I seem like a pill. I just grow weary of people's inveterate tendancy to look for individual failures of agency to blame for the result of a huge technological change altering the sytemic forced that act on a system. It's like saying, "you know why people stopped properly valuing books? The monks got sloppier and sloppier with their illuminations. The colors just didn't pop anymore, and there damn near wasn't a page that wasn't an indecipherable palimpest. That's why people switched over to this paper trash, the old stuff was damn near trash itself, so what's the difference?" Movable type didn't destroy the monastic system of transliteration because monks were stupid.
posted by Diablevert at 6:32 PM on June 2, 2010




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